Yoga Bites: Here’s how yoga may aid in weight loss

By Sarah Hundley January 24, 2012 01:11 am

Yoga Bites appears every four weeks.

Folks in the fitness industry know that January brings many people to the gym or yoga class in order to shed unwanted pounds (holiday or otherwise). People often ask me if yoga can help with weight loss.

First of all, we must understand that many factors play into this subject such as age, genetics, lifestyle, individual will­power, and possible food addictions. We also know that in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight we must eat well, hydrate and regularly raise our heart rate to torch more calories than we take in.

There are as many styles of yoga as there are individuals on this planet. It’s true that more gentle forms of yoga practice won’t do much for your waistline, while more vigorous yoga styles can burn calories that rival most other athletic exercises. Yoga can be a killer workout.

Any style of yoga helps tone, strengthen and lengthen muscles, which can sculpt the body but not necessarily make it thinner. Also bear in mind that muscle tissue is denser and therefore heavier than fat tissue.

Physiologically, a faster flowing practice with more demanding postures builds inner-heat, which in turn burns more calories. Practicing yoga asanas (physical postures) builds lean muscle, which revs up our metabolism and fat-melting ability.

Having said all of that, you don’t necessarily need to speed through several rounds of Sun Salutations or delve headlong into a “power” practice to see a sleeker you in the mirror.

Practicing yoga helps to reduce stress (which can mess with health and weight on many levels), improve digestion (assimilation of nutrients and elimination of waste), and enhance circulation to major endocrine glands (such as the thyroid and pancreas) that control your appetite, moods and sleep patterns.

The most well-known benefits of yoga include loosening muscles that have been tightened and shortened by inactivity, tension, and stress. Asana practice also improves joint mobility, increases flexibility, and can correct postural problems that may have resulted from weight gain.

Psychologically, weight issues often bring a big dose of harsh self-judgment. Yoga helps us balance this by creating a safe, positive environment to reconnect with our bodies and quiet the counterproductive messages that often arise in our minds. Engaging the body mindfully can be deeply empowering.

The self-acceptance, physical confidence, increased body awareness and inward reflection that often comes with regular yoga practice also helps one achieve and maintain a healthy weight, whether you are slightly or significantly overweight, or if you are struggling with body image issues despite being at a healthy weight.

I believe yoga has the potential to be very transformative on many levels, with the physical body being a doorway to the more profound gifts of the practice.

Yoga can also help with weight loss for the mind. We tend to carry a lot of heavy mental and emotional “stuff” around, and a good yoga practice can help us to dissolve fear, anger, blame, resentment, guilt, self-punishment, negativity and old hurts.

Remember that as long as the body is aligned to stay balanced, energetic, and healthy, according to Patanjali, author of the formative yoga text, the Yoga Sutras, it is yoga. Yoga is not what we do, but how we do what we do that makes it yoga. Invite mindfulness into all of your actions to be yoga (rather than do yoga) anytime, anywhere.

Can yoga help you lose weight? Maybe. Will it change your relationship with your body? Most likely. And probably for the better. All you need is a yoga mat, bare feet, and your dedication, to make a major difference in your health from the inside and out.

Sarah Hundley, a certified yoga instructor and massage therapist, owns Shambala Studio in Crescent City. Email her at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it